Joe Stead – The Ramblings of an old Codger. Volume Thirty Nine – December 2003.

I apologize to those of you who enjoy the Ramblings for the late delivery and the shortness of this edition. Nora and I returned from our 7 week tour of the Americas only a few days ago. I have 242 e mails to read as well, so if you are expecting a response to something you have sent me – well that will arrive eventually too. We were treated like ‘Royalty’ wherever we went. People were so kind from Boston in the North to Valparaiso in the South and we are both exceedingly grateful. A more detailed account of the trip will follow in future Ramblings.

Driving through America from Florida to Boston and back via the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina in two weeks (a total of 4,445 miles) I was interested to discover the response I would receive from Americans to my attitude towards the war in Iraq. To my astonishment (although to be fair I was performing to ‘folky’ audiences renowned for their Liberal attitudes) nearly everybody I spoke and sung with considered that the war was a bad idea. At one club I was overwhelmed afterwards with people thanking me for speaking out on stage. Why isn’t Pete Seeger or Tom Paxton doing this I was asked? Well that is a question I could not answer although I suspect Pete and Tom will be making their own point in their own way and it’s simply that the people asking me these questions have not heard them yet. I did obviously see a lot of ‘God Bless America’ slogans from car bumper stickers to restaurant windows and fore courts. But to know that not everybody in America thinks that President Bush was right was indeed a comfort. However more disturbing perhaps was that the majority of those people to whom I did speak who were pro war honestly thought that Iraq was responsible for 9/11 and that Iraq harboured terrorists prior to the demise of Saddam Hussein. Now this I find quite incredible. Somebody at the top has been doing a lot of brain washing whilst a lot of somebody’s at the bottom have been doing a lot of listening without thinking too much.

The capture of Saddam Hussein is of course something that we in the West should all celebrate. However I still believe that Iraq was free of terrorists whilst Hussein was in power and I also still believe that we have opened the doors to terrorists by deposing him in the way we have done. Only time will prove me either right or wrong.

If you live in or near West Yorkshire or are traveling through the County at the end of January there are two dates you should put in your diary.

Jan 23rd (Joe) General Ludd Folk Club, The Wheel Inn, Golcar, Huddersfield.
Jan 24th (KM) The Square Chapel Theatre Halifax with pupils from Holy Trinity Junior School Halifax and All Saints School in Huddersfield.

The latter has a matinee and an evening performance starting at 3pm and 7.30pm.

See you when the sun goes down – Kimber’s Men.
A 12 page, sumptuously illustrated booklet of sleeve notes accompanies this one, containing not only lyrics and illustrations many of the courtesy of the definitive Stan Hugill’s ‘Shanties of the Seven Seas’, others from Roy Palmer’s ‘Boxing the Compass’. For a description of the group and its theories as to how shanties should be sung see ‘Performer News’ elsewhere in this magazine, but the tracks do not only cover shanties but forebitters and other sailor songs.
Standard works include: Admiral Benbow, Trim rigged doxy, Shallow Brown, Leaky Ship, Blood Red Roses, Lowlands, Mollymauk, Sally Rackett Walk around me brave boys, Hundred Years Ago, A Long time ago, Bully in the alley, Lord Franklin, Donkey Riding, John Kanaka, Lindy Low, Pay me the money down, Mingulay Boat Song, Roll Alabama Roll, Rio Grande, Shenandoah, but all these are presented in an enthusiastic and engaging way that gives them a newness not altogether due to the additional lyrics.
New to some will be: Help me to raise ‘em, Gordon Lightfoot’s Ode to Big Blue, Drinking that wine.
Altogether, this is a superbly entertaining disc with lavish and unusually informative sleeve notes; those who like shanties will love it: others will admire the presentation.
In aid of RNLI. Charity Number 209606.
Trevor Lister (Editor) Folk Roundabout.

OBITURARIES. – Gladys Wilson + Tony Capstick.
Having just arrived in Florida on October 23rd I shortly received the telephone call from Mike Wilson that I had long been both expecting and dreading. The matriarch of the Wilson Family had passed away. To my astonishment upon arriving home from my 7 week trip I discovered that Tony Capstick had also died within 24 hours of Gladys. As a consequence I missed two funerals I would have certainly attended had I not been thousands of miles away on the other side of the planet.

Gladys Wilson was a remarkable woman. Until very recently, when too sick to travel, she appeared at every gig the Wilson’s did. She was their sternest critic and their staunchest supporter, she was also a true friend of my family too. I remember nights with her in Charlton in London when, after I had gone hazily to bed, she opted to sleep on the kitchen floor in a sleeping bag. She was as hard as nails with a heart of gold. No trip was too far, no journey too difficult. The family was a sailing ship where she was the figurehead. The Wilson’s will continue to amaze and astound audiences across the country, regrettably however time has taken its toll and Gladys will no longer be with them in person. But she will still be there in spirit and God help any one of those great big lumbering lads who forgets it!

The passing of Tony Capstick was however not expected, although anyone with a drinking problem like he had can expect death to suddenly loom quickly upon the horizon. There is no doubting whatsoever that Tony was one of the funniest men to grace the folk clubs of Great Britain from the 1960’s through until the 1990’s. Some people are born to be funny and Tony was one of these. But if you never saw Tony perform don’t be mistaken, he was a fine singer of traditional song as well. He was also a TV actor (the most unlikely policemen in Summer Wine), a radio presenter and an after diner speaker. Born in 1944 he failed to reach his 60th birthday. Like other folk comedians who have gone before booze was a constant problem. It might seem curious to those who have never worked the stage as a full time profession to understand why so many comedians in particular turn to demon alcohol as a prop. Jon Isherwood, Jake Thackray, Alex Campbell (Alex actually died of cancer of the throat – but his drinking habits did not help) have gone before him whilst Bob Williamson has mercifully retired before taking the same route. Some of the ‘tributes’ to Tony have dwelt long and hard upon the negative side of his character. However the critics who sit in their three piece suits and bow ties have no idea of the pressures involved in traveling from Brighton to Sheffield to Birmingham, to Glasgow, to Cardiff night after night to stand on a stage to make people laugh. I did it for twenty five years myself, it knocked me into oblivion and I was fortunate indeed to have survived to come out the other side intact. Frankly I’m sick to death of the critics from local folk magazines to national world music magazines who carp and criticize singers and performers without truly realizing the pressures under which they perform. And of course the folk scene in Britain being held primarily in pubs has aided and abetted in the downfall of people like Tony. Having said that I must recount a remarkable evening at the Tram Shed in Woolwich-London in which I ran probably the biggest folk club in the country. We constantly got 400 people every Sunday night; believe me 200 people was considered a quiet evening. I had booked Tony with Richard Digance. Aware of Tony’s unreliability I decided to put Tony on first for 60 minutes and then put Richard on after the interval, this way surely Tony would give us a good evening, behave himself and the night would pass devoid of problems. Not so. Just as Richard reached his pen-ultimate number at 10.59pm Tony staggered on stage with my banjo round his neck, smashing an empty bottle of ale on Richards guitar he declared that “It was time we all had a good sing-song together”. Tony was completely smashed, Richard was distinctly un-amused (he had never met Tony before) and whilst the bouncers jumped on stage to remove Tony I quickly leapt on stage with them to prevent damage to my precious instrument. Capstick was a true legend in his own lifetime and there are few performers who can carry that mantle. Good luck to you Tony, with your impish smile and your quick retort. Give ‘em Hell up there – by Christ they deserve it!

Airline Humour - a conversation that airline passengers normally will never hear. The following is supposedly an account of an exchanges between airline pilots and control towers at London Gatwick Airport.

While taxiing at London Gatwick, the crew of a US Air flight departing for Ft. Lauderdale made a wrong turn and came nose to nose with a United 727.
An irate female ground controller lashed out at the US Air crew, screaming: "US Air 2771, where the hell are you going?! I told you to turn right onto Charlie taxiway! You turned right on Delta! Stop right there.
I know it's difficult for you to tell the difference between 'C' and 'D', but get it right!" Continuing her rage to the embarrassed crew, she was now shouting hysterically: "God! Now you've screwed everything up! It'll take forever to sort this out! You stay right there and don't move till I tell you to! You can expect progressive taxi instructions in about half an hour and I want you to go exactly where I tell you, when I tell you, and how I tell you! You got that, US Air 2771?"
"Yes ma'am," the humbled crew responded. Naturally, the ground control communications frequency fell terribly silent after the verbal bashing of US Air 2771. Nobody wanted to chance engaging the irate ground controller in her current state of mind. Tension in every cockpit out in Gatwick was definitely running high.
Just then an unknown pilot broke the silence and keyed his microphone, asking: "Wasn't I married to you once?"

Have a Happy Christmas, pray for a peaceful New Year and remember-
Keep Smiling, keep singing.

Joe Stead.

PS. Expect the January Ramblings to be late as well.